A recent report reveals that the CPRIT Foundation retained a tobacco lobbyist — even up until its final days. Is this a hypocritical conflict of interest, or just the way that business gets done in political circles?
For as much as the state-funded CPRIT has come under heavy fire from Texas lawmakers and the media for its missteps in avoiding conflicts of interest, the privately-funded arm of the organization — the CPRIT Foundation — has endured what seems to be a never-ending crescendo of withering criticism. Even as the organization winds down as a result of the bad publicity stemming from their donor lists and dodgy decision to rebrand the foundation, the hits just keep on coming.
A report from the Texas Tribune reveals that the cancer-fighting charity hired and retained a tobacco lobbyist to represent its interests in the Texas legislature, even in the waning weeks before the foundation officially announced its decision to close down:
Jay Maguire, who represents three off-brand cigarette companies, was hired in January to represent the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Foundation, and his contract remained in force at its successor charity, the Texas Cancer Coalition, both Maguire and coalition spokesman Marc Palazzo said.
Mr. Maguire and former CPRIT Foundation executive director Jennifer Stevens (the mastermind behind the organization’s move to rebrand as the Texas Cancer Coalition) both admit that they never saw Maguire’s lobbying work for Big Tobacco as a “conflict of interest.” In fact, Maguire has sought to argue that his work with a handful of smaller tobacco companies has been limited to merely protecting them from what they believe to be unfair state taxes that weren’t part of a lawsuit settlement in the 1990s. Maguire went on to state:
“I never advocate for smoking or other tobacco use. My work is strictly limited to ensuring that Big Tobacco does not get away with using its tremendous resources to drive small competitors out of business.”
Regardless, the rest of the CPRIT Foundation board claims that they were completely unaware of Maguire’s ties to the tobacco industry. Dr. Joseph Bailes, a prominent CPRIT Foundation board member, went on record as saying, “I am shocked and appalled that Jay Maguire would go to work for a cancer-fighting organization if he had tobacco clients. I never would have hired anybody like that. I’ve fought cancer my whole life.” CPRIT’s Jimmy Mansour also claims to have had no knowledge
Yet, Jennifer Stevens, “wrote Maguire on Tuesday saying the foundation was aware of his tobacco clients when he was hired. She said he was tapped for his expertise and skill. ‘This is to confirm that the CPRIT Foundation did not believe that you had a conflict of interest with your representation of us,’ she wrote. ‘We appreciate your bringing this to our attention at the outset when we first engaged your services for the session.’”
Ostensibly, the rest of the Texas legislature is also claiming that they had no idea of Mr. Maguire’s straddling of two very disparate lobbies, as lawmakers have wasted no time in harshly criticizing the CPRIT Foundation for hiring a tobacco lobbyist to represent a cancer-fighting organization: “How can you be in one part of the Capitol advocating for best practices in cancer research … and then on the other end arguing on behalf of industry saying tobacco companies need regulating a certain way?” asked State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, adding, “That seems to be the story of the CPRIT Foundation. It’s just one conflict of interest after another.”
The rest of the Texas Tribune article ruminates on whether or not Maguire’s claims about his work with “small tobacco” are legitimate or not.
I’m less interested in prosecuting Jay Maguire’s previous work in lobbying for tobacco companies, and more interested in having a frank discussion about two specific topics: first, are we to believe that the rest of the CPRIT Foundation and the Texas legislature were not aware that Maguire was a lobbyist for both a cancer-fighting organization and tobacco companies? Second, are lobbyists precluded from lobbying certain interests based on their previous work?
To the first question: how is it possible that the CPRIT Foundation board members were not aware that its chief lobbyist to the Texas legislature had ties with the tobacco industry? Given the Foundation’s heavy involvement in the state-run side of CPRIT, how is it that they would be so “hands off” when it came to vetting a lobbyist like Maguire? Furthermore, believing that Texas lawmakers were unaware of this connection is even harder to believe. Mr. Maguire makes his living in the Texas Capitol, meeting with lawmakers all the time. How is it that no one who dealt with Maguire on CPRIT issues had never seen or heard of him before in his dealings with the tobacco industry — one of the largest and most powerful industries in America today?
It’s my guess that quite the opposite is true, and that what we’re seeing here is a circling of the wagons, now that Maguire’s past lobbying efforts have been exposed. Assuming that he intends to continue to work as a Texas lobbyist, I’m sure he’ll be discreet in protecting those who did know that we was working both ends of the cancer divide. However, it likely that he could shed some serious light on what everyone knew, and when they knew it.
As for the second question, Governor Perry weighed in on the issue by saying he didn’t fault Maguire for “making a living,” instead heaping the blame on the CPRIT Foundation’s decision to hire him in the first place: “You just have to go back to it being just one more case of bad judgment,” he said. “I think it’s more reflective of the foundation than it is anything else.” Perry’s quote speaks to a more ideological question: should a lobbyist be limited to what they can lobby for based on their previous work, and do lobbyists’ previous work preclude them from being hired by certain organizations?
History has shown us that the average citizen tends to be more ideological than his our her counterpart in politics. Time and time again, we see examples of how politicians and lobbyists alike work in ideologies in order to achieve their own ends. They’re pragmatic. This is precisely what a lobbyist is — a hired gun who can wield ideology to nudge governmental policies that come impact businesses’ bottom lines.
When the public catches the political machinations in the act of flip-flopping ideologies for their own political or economic ends, there is a gasp, followed by a wave of indignation from politicians who, once again, use the opportunity to align themselves with the winning side.
It’s a cynical observation, but it is one that we often see in political spheres.
My guess is that there is virtually no lobbyist in America today who has not engaged in some kind of lobbying effort that was in direct or indirect conflict with previous work they did. In the case of Jay Maguire, the real issue here is optics — how it looks to have a tobacco lobbyist working for a cancer researching fighting organization. Is there any evidence to suggest, however, that Maguire manipulated the legislature to favor the tobacco industry? Or rather, was he able to work both lobbies independently from one another?
We have to decide if we want to judge the situation based on optics or reality. And as average citizens who deal in both ideology and pragmatism, we are in a better position to do so than our political counterparts.